By Joe Rector

I don’t gamble. The reason has been told before, but in case anyone might have forgotten why, here is the brief story. As a 16-year-old, I worked at the city maintenance department with other teens. We cut weeds, hauled trash, and cleaned areas around the city. Between jobs, we rode in the back of a 1952 pickup truck. There we played odd-even for a quarter. Dummy that I was, I managed to lose my entire paycheck for the week to a boy nicknamed Zingo. That broke me from gambling.

Lately, I’ve thought about that statement and discovered that it isn’t exactly true. A few years ago, I did fall into gambling once again. This time, however, I bet my money on something on which I hoped to make a profit through business. My downfall was commodities.

I don’t even remember where I’d ever heard about commodities, but I imagine it was someplace on this God-forsaken computer and the Internet. I fell hard for the idea of investing in and trading commodities. Some “snake-oil salesman” advertised his wares and how they helped individuals conquer markets. Bitten by the bug, I bought several of his books and other materials.

For weeks, I practiced his methods. I’d choose a commodity and chart its progress on a daily basis. Even though I didn’t have a cent invested yet, I checked the market several times a day to see how the chosen item was doing. When it was climbing, I was elated; when it took a downturn, I was depressed. Mind you, I didn’t even have a dime invested at this time, but the rollercoaster of emotions still flipped and flopped my stomach.

I’d inherited some money when my mother passed. I decided to take a portion of it to purchase commodities and track my way to financial well-being for my family. The first problem came just trying to choose a commodity. I wanted oil or pork belly or precious metals. Yes, I wanted to trade on the big items, but the problem was that I didn’t have enough money to invest in them. Minimums were well beyond my meager funds. In the end, what I found that I could afford was Canola oil. Yep, I owned stock in the stuff that folks used in cooking. The entry was cheap, and the rewards were small.

Each day, I checked the exchange to see how my investment was faring. Just like the rule that says what goes up must come down, my Canola oil rode the rollercoaster. The key to this material that I bought and read told me that at some point the drop ends and the recovery will be about half of what it was before. My heart rose and sank as I drew those lines that on occasion reached toward the sky but usually took a turn to hell.

Before long, the price for this “precious oil” took a dive, and I was on the wrong side of the trend. I was almost out of money and decided to pull out the small amount of money that was left. It was all a gamble, and just like when I was sixteen, I’d learned the hard way that gambling comes in many forms and that the reason it is so successful in casinos is that plenty of losers are just waiting to donate their money to the temples of chance.

After that, I stopped risking what little money I had on my own. Amy and I invested money in mutual funds that were managed by Ralph Alexander until he retired and then with Pam Schwartz. Yes, we’ve hit some rough patches where some of our earnings disappeared in the blink of an eye, but for the most part, our investments have been solid enough that we can have money to supplement our pensions.

Folks, don’t gamble. Few players win big; the rest of us feed the gambling beast and fortunes of those who own the casinos.